From the top · 25 January 2016

Sherry Coutu: Meet the woman involved with LinkedIn, Raspberry Pi and the London Stock Exchange

Anyone wanting to build a global business needs to know about Sherry Coutu

After cutting her teeth in the world of technology, Sherry Coutu, one of our 30 Small Business Decision Makers, has turned her attentions to helping Britain’s startups, scale-up.

While Coutu is originally from Canada, the entrepreneur, investor and advisor now firmly calls the UK home. It is here that she is pushing forward with some of her most ambitious projects to date, including Silicon Valley comes to the UK (SVC2UK) and her research into companies scaling-up.

The Scale-Up Institute, which she set up alongside LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, was created to improve the chances that a small company will get to a global size. From its inception in 2015, it is now funded, staffed and partnered with big organisations such as Google and the London Stock Exchange.

For Coutu, it is now “significantly easier” to start up a business in the UK. This, she believes, is down to a kind of “enlightened self interest” from the government.

“Historically there have been barriers that stopped startup, but it’s almost unrecognisable now. You used to have to go over to the US to feel that ‘bouncy’ environment, but it absolutely exists here today,” she added.

“People used to think it was too risky to go work for a young company. Now we know 100 per cent of net new jobs come from companies that are less than five years old – so it’s probably more risky working for an older company.”

Coutu also pointed to the statistic indicating job satisfaction amongst people working for growing companies is at around 80-85 per cent, while at 40-45 per cent in older companies, as evidence of the culture shift.

The business leader also believes it is getting easier to source finance. However, the talent issue is still there and one of the main bottlenecks she is looking to address through her work on scale-up companies.

So what else is it about Coutu that saw us include her in our maiden Small Business Decision Makers list, featuring her as a “Champion”? Well, for starters, she has a fairly impressive CV. Her early entrepreneurial exploits saw her found and build Interactive Investor, an online financial services company helping people trade and invest.

Coutu took that company through IPO and subsequent sale in 2001, and has since gone on to hold a myriad of fascination positions. She’s had roles at the Prince’s Trust, NESTA, and New Energy Finance – not to mention her ongoing angel investor roles at game-changing businesses including Zoopla, Duedil and YPlan.

She chairs Founders4Schools, which connects teachers with entrepreneurs of growing, successful businesses, and is a non-executive member of Cambridge University.

Her opinion on what it takes to build a successful business, and the kind of infrastructure which supports this, is a valued one.

In the short term, she’d like to see the government realise information so that it’s easier to spot fast-growing companies “pulling away from the crowd”. Her own survey indicated that 97 per cent of fast-growth scale-ups want the government to release this information.

Coutu would like to replicate what has been done with the Deloitte Fast 50 so that it exists in every community. The result would be verified data saying which are the fastest-growing companies within five miles.

“In universities and schools, we need to allow role models in so we’re not only relying on teachers for insight into the world of work,” she suggested.

“Role models have a big impact, and there are enough to go into schools. If government could encourage that, or even dictate it by telling them, then it would make a big difference. Schools only think of big businesses like Rolls Royce, rather than a young growing company.”

Coutu’s ambitious thinking is driving change in the business arena. She’s dreaming big and believing that British entrepreneurs have what it takes to produce global offerings. Once an aspiring business builder has found a problem worth solving, tracked talent, sourced customers and got funding in place, as she puts it, “before you know it they’ve changed the world”.

If you’ve been inspired by the work of Sherry Coutu, and want to hear more great stories, check out the rest of our 30 Small Business Decision Makers.

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Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.

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